After a busy and productive week, you get an urgent call from a client on Friday afternoon. They have a rush job and want it finished by Monday morning.

The manufacturing facility operates over the weekend, but you need to add an additional shift to fulfill the deadline, which is quickly done with a few phone calls. With all details finalized, the project moves forward at a rapid rate. Then something terrible happens.

A machine part breaks and works grinds to a screeching halt. The job is delayed and the client is unhappy. And the manufacturing company is left asking, “What happened, and how can we do better next time?”

The Internet of Things is promising to make these types of scenarios obsolete. In the situation above, that part could not have broken because a few weeks prior, sensors would have alerted staff that it needed replacement. 

It would have been quickly ordered and replaced during off-peak hours, and downtime completely avoided. The result? The rush job would have continued on schedule and the customer would have been thrilled, maybe even awarding the company additional work in the near future.

Results such as these are the reason that manufacturing companies are taking a serious look at IoT. In fact, IoT has enabled manufacturers to experience a 28.5 percent average earnings increase, according to TATA Consultancy Services. But what exactly is IoT, and how does it work in the context of manufacturing?

Smart Manufacturing: The Nuts and Bolts

Smart manufacturing is about harnessing the power of data and using analytics to run your facility better. Internet of Things technology can communicate what has to be done at the exact moment of relevance. Manufacturing equipment can be fitted with sensors to collect data and better understand how machines are operating.

For example, let’s say that you’re maintaining an expensive and valuable piece of gear. In the past, the procedure involved a few basic steps, including:

Measuring how frequently the machinery failed and using a preventative maintenance schedule that was slightly shorter than the average period of failure.

  • Waiting for the gear to fail.
  • Fixing the equipment.

This process is not optimized because it is using historical instead of real-time data. Using IoT sensors that are strategically placed on the machines empowers companies with more information on equipment health than was previously possible.

A large amount of data is gathered, but equally important are the insights made available by that data. Now, managers can truly understand when equipment needs maintenance and replacement before urgent situations arise. Here are five important benefits of IoT for the manufacturing industry to take into account.

Greater Energy Efficiency

Energy is one of the largest expenses for manufacturing firms. Bills arrive a couple of weeks before the close of the charging cycle and highlight all of the energy used for the entire factory. 

But the problem is, these invoices detail total energy consumption, and there is no way to break down the bill to better understand where specific inefficiencies dwell. Yet nearly 77 percent of companies reported obtaining energy consumption data from their monthly utility bills or energy monitoring tools, which both have limited points of data.

IoT closes that gap, as it helps to collect and understand data down to device level. Do you have a device that is underperforming? If so, the tech will pinpoint that device so you can figure out how to boost efficiency. 

In fact, every piece of machinery on the floor can be tracked and managers can gain granular visibility into energy intake. Actionable insights are delivered about waste, the way to attain more efficiency from gear, and even potential failures and regulatory compliance issues.

This real-time data can deliver interesting insights, such as off-hour intake, recommendations for optimizing production schedules and other opportunities for savings. 

It can even benchmark similar pieces of equipment to determine which machines are performing better and proactively solve problems with underperforming ones. Similarly, managers can evaluate different locations and pinpoint hidden operational inefficiencies and waste.

Predictive Maintenance

One of the largest benefits of IoT in the manufacturing business is the ability to proactively complete maintenance. You are no longer planning maintenance schedules based on historical information, but instead receiving real-time data to understand maintenance needs at an exact moment.

Sensors provide the relevant data so that you can know the requirements of the machine, rather than guessing. This technology drastically cuts waste from the manufacturing equation. If parts don’t need replacement or repair is not required, those resources can be utilized elsewhere, and money and time are saved.

For example, IoT sensors may track the temperature of a key piece of manufacturing equipment. If the temperature starts to increase, staff can be alerted to the situation and a predictive solution can be put into action to prevent any potential issues.

A handful of companies, such as the French rail company SNCF, are already using this technology to predict maintenance needs proactively.

They are using machine learning how to gain insight from the growing volumes of data they’re collecting about their rail network, enabling them to more efficiently detect early warning signals of potential failure and resolve issues before they affect service.

Higher Product Quality

Improving the quality of products is a primary goal for manufacturers, according to an IDC report. A higher-quality product leads to many other benefits, such as reduced waste, lower costs, increased customer satisfaction and higher sales. Achieving this goal, however, is not always easy. This is where IoT can help.

One major culprit behind product-quality issues is faulty gear, whether it has not been set correctly, calibrated properly or maintained. But even worse, manufacturers don’t always know that equipment has a problem and as a result, the quality of the product may suffer. And they may not find out until it is too late.

For example, let’s say an auto manufacturer is responsible for applying paint to metal parts. The company has a reputation for doing high-quality work, but one misstep may lead to months of issues.

Without warning, the temperature of the painting station shifts outside the standards. As a result, the paint does not adhere to the metal properly, but at first glance, everything seems fine. The item sails through quality control and inspection, and it is not until a year later that customers see the effects. A recall is issued and large amounts of resources are spent correcting the problem.

These types of quality issues have far-reaching effects, leading to product recalls, lost trust and damage to the brand. Those customers affected may jump to conclusions and assume the faulty paint was the result of cutting corners or using a superior paint product.

Using IoT can help avoid these types of costly problems. With this technology in play, the paint station would have had IoT sensors embedded into the equipment. At the moment the sensors detected the temperature change, staff members would receive an alert. Employees could then stop production and solve the challenge immediately. As a result, the recall, angry customers, and damaged customer relationships would all be avoided.

This technology is also useful in the product design and testing phases. For example, the production of aircraft, trains and other transportation equipment can be designed with sensors that help to measure important components that determine the safety, performance, and durability of the product.

Bring Down The Downtime

Timely, accurate and high-quality production is at the heart of profits. Without reliable production, companies risk serious loss. Plus, as soon as a machine stops functioning in the middle of a run, the merchandise on the machine can be a total loss, in addition to traditional downtime expenses.

For example, let us say an oven breaks at a plant in the midst of a baking run. Upon the failure of the machine, you are struggling not just with downtime, but also with the loss of all the ingredients and associated production time. IoT provides safeguards against these kinds of losses. Sensors immediately detect problems in the baking machine at the moment that performance declines. Staff are alerted in real time and the issue can be resolved to minimize any associated downtime costs.

Faster, More Informed Decisions

Managers are not in the dark about equipment performance and problems when using IoT technology. They may have assumed everything was going smoothly in the past — until something broke. But the Internet of Things unlocks critical data about performance and allows those insights to flow freely to those who need them most.

Now managers can transform a reactive approach, focused on replacing parts on set schedules using historical data, into a proactive approach, in which stress is reduced, waste is decreased and visibility is elevated. As a result, they can make faster and more informed decisions at the precise moment of relevance.

A Real-Time Competitive Edge for the Future

The manufacturing industry is competitive, and companies are constantly looking for an edge to stay aggressive and get ahead. They want to become more efficient, operate with greater profitability and serve customers better. 

IoT technology provides a powerful set of tools that can deliver these advantages. It takes data that has always been there but was never accessible before and puts it into the hands of people who need it most.

As a result, managers can transform a state of”putting out fires” into one that is more efficient and allows for companies to build new strategies focused on growth and innovation. Item quality is solid because the equipment is operating optimally, and clients are happier — so the company is positioned with greater strength and resiliency. It is these benefits that make IoT a critical tool for manufacturing companies that want to grow and thrive in the future.